Under the Sea Guests Over the Moon

4th annual Underwater Museum of Art Gala Raises Funds, Awareness for Public Art Program
Underwater Museum gala headliner
Jontavious Willis (right) and Jayy Hopp perform at Under the Sea

Art lovers, nature lovers and underwater museum enthusiasts gathered under twinkling lights in Grand Boulevard Town Center in Miramar Beach on a balmy spring evening to support all three.

Unnamed 8The Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County kicked off Art Month Walton County on May 4 by hosting the 4th annual Under the Sea fundraiser. The festive affair celebrated the Underwater Museum of Art’s (UMA) fourth installation with a night of art, music, cocktails, food and fun.

Upon entry guests were welcomed by a gleaming stand up paddleboard handcrafted by the Big Bend Maritime Center and beautiful, large-scale artwork by local artists Allison Wickey (who concepted the UMA) and Justin Gaffrey on display along with dozens of other travel trips, spa experiences and packages for the Art & More silent and live auction.

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Shrimp & Gouda Cheese Grits by Chef Blake Bohannon

Continuing around the corner was a foodie’s thrill — a delicious bite served up by the “who’s who” of local chefs. Just some of the incredible tastes were Chef Phil McDonald’s (Black Bear Bread Company) Smoked Cobia Rillette with calabrian chili cioli on a house bagel chip; Chef Brannon Janca’s (Down Island) spicy Louisiana Crawfish Maque Choux with creamy Delta Rice Grits; Chef Blake Bohannon’s (Grayton Beach Catering) succulent Shrimp & Gouda Cheese Grits bites with bacon, crema and chives; and Chef Paul DiGiacomo’s (Grayton Corner Cafe) Best Fried Chicken was just that.

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The Seed and The Sea by Davide Galbiati

Dotting Grand Park was still spectacular sculptures to savor. French artist Davide Galbiati’s The Seed and The Sea and Santa Rosa Beach artist Brit Deslonde’s Bloom Baby Bloom gave art lovers the special treat of viewing the large-scale sculptures before they are plunged 58 feet into depths of the Gulf (off Grayton Beach). When they are submerged (later this summer) they will become a part of 34 original artworks on exhibit in the nation’s first Underwater Museum of Art.

In addition to these two works of art, the 2022 installation will include: Currents and Tafoni by Joe Adams (Ventura, CA), Pirate Shipwreck by Sean Coffey (Pittsburgh, PA), Fibonacci Conchousness by Anthony Heinz May (Eugene, OR), New Homes by Janetta Napp (Honolulu, HI), Arc of Nexus by Tina Piracci (Richmond, CA), We All Live Here by Marisol Rendón (San Diego, CA), and Common Chord by Vince Tatum (Santa Rosa Beach, FL).

After dutiful remarks of gratitude by CAA executive director Jennifer Steele, the artful evening culminated with a heartful performance by Georgia blues singer Jontavious Willis who took the stage with fellow guitarist Jay Hawke just before 8 p.m. The 24-year-old multi-instrumentalist — nominated for a Grammy in 2020 thanks to his latest album, Spectacular Class — delivered dynamic vocals on a range of blues from Delta, Piedmont and Texas. Willis’ charming stories and stand-out fingerpicking, flat-picking, and slide prowess were on full display.

Unnamed 7Under the Sea guests captured the memory of the evening by purchasing colorful UMA-logoed merchandise and posing for keepsake photos with fun underwater-themed props.

Helping to toast the special evening was award-winning celebrity mixologist Michael Jones of the Craft Bar. The recent winner of the South Walton Beaches Wine & Food Festival’s inaugural Golden Shaker Award, honored sponsors and cooled off guests with refreshing cocktails like Latitude Margaritaville Spicy Margarita, Strawberry Splash and Work of Art.

The event brought out artists, locals and business and art industry leaders alike, including Demetrius Fuller, CEO of Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation and musical director of Sinfonia Gulf Coast.

“The arts are important to every community and the CAA has been a stalwart in our community for nearly 30 years,” Fuller said. “With ArtsQuest, 30A Songwriters and all the incredible programs they do to support teachers in schools; artists and art organizations in our community, the Underwater Museum is a testament to their creativity and innovative stature, and I’m happy to be here to support it.”

Unnamed 4Proceeds from the evening will benefit the Underwater Museum of Art, an exciting example of the Cultural Arts Alliance’s Art in Public Spaces program. Named in 2018 by Time Magazine as one of 100 “World’s Greatest Places,” the UMA augments South Walton Artificial Reef Association’s mission of creating marine habitat and expanding fishery populations while providing enhanced creative, cultural, economic and educational opportunities for the benefit, education and enjoyment of residents, students and visitors in South Walton.

For more information, visit culturalartsalliance.com/uma.

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